Tag Archives: travel

Nanda Devi

Nanda Devi

Two Himalayan classics on Nanda Devi: The Ascent of Nanda Devi by H W Tilman (1937) and Nanda Devi by Eric Shipton (1936)

Among the books on my shelf are two first editions of Himalayan classics on Nanda Devi (7816m), a beautiful mountain in the Kumaon Himalaya, India. I grew up in the hill town of Nainital and I could see this peak from the hill tops around town, so this mountain and these books have a special significance to me. The fist is The Ascent of Nanda Devi by H W Tilman (Macmillan, 1937) and the second is Nanda Devi by Eric Shipton (Hodder & Stoughton, 1936).

Nanda Devi

This first edition is signed by Charles Houston, the expedition leader

Bill Tilman’s The Ascent of Nanda Devi, a first edition, is signed by Charles Houston, the expedition leader. At the time Nanda Devi was the highest mountain ever climbed.

Nanda Devi

Nanda Devi (7816m), Kumaon Himalaya, India

This is the view of Nanda Devi (7816m) on the right and Trishul (7120m) on the left from Kasar Devi near the town of Almorah in Kumaon. Trishul was first climbed in 1907 by A L Mumm, T G Longstaff and was the highest peak climbed at the time. The record was broken in 1937 with Tilman’s ascent of Nanda Devi.

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Lasser Yangti valley

Camp in the upper reaches of the Lasser Yangti valley

Camp in the upper reaches of the Lasser Yangti valley

I am starting a new series of photos of spectacular campsites that I had the privilege to sleep at during my treks and expeditions. Here is the first: This was a campsite in the upper reaches of the Lasser Yangti valley in Kumaon Himalayas, India.

Map of the location

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Protected: Climbing the mountains of fire

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Posted in Kamchatka, travel, trekking Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

The North Face Stormbreak

The North Face Stormbreak 1
Review after an expedition to Kamchatka, Russia

The North Face Stormbreak 1

The little tent that could below a smoking volcano in Kamchatka (Kamchatka, Russia)

While planning for an expedition to the volcanos of Kamchatka in the Russian far east, I was on the look out for a lightweight (sub 1.5kg) three season one person tent. I considered a number of very worthy options such as the  MSR Hubba NX 1, Macpac Microlight, Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultralight and the Marmot EOS. I was very impressed at the range of lightweight one person tents on the market. After much agonising I decided to go for the The North Face Stormbreak 1.

The North Face Stormbreak 1 is a little bit heavier than the others but makes up for this in a number of its features. The two main reasons I decided to go for this tent were: the two pole design which gives it a lot of structural integrity and the amazing price of $129. While all the other tents are around the $300 or $400 price North Face has done an amazing job of providing a tent that is nearly as light but considerably cheaper. The extra pole does add some weight but I wanted to have a solid tent that would stand up in strong wind and heavy snow.

The other good feature I liked was the mesh inner tent has a generous band of material near the floor making it considerably less draughty than other lightweight tents. Some of the tents I have used in the past save weight by having the mesh of the inner tent come down till a couple of inches above the tent floor. When the wind blows it gets under the fly and blows straight through the mesh. This makes sleeping in these kinds of tents very draughty. The wind also blows dust straight under the fly and through the mesh.

On a pervious expedition, we were camped in a very dusty place and the mesh interior of another tent I used provided no protection from the wind-blown dust. All my gear, including my camera equipment was covered with a film of dust; an experience I don’t want to repeat. I had no such issues with the The North Face Stormbreak 1.

The North Face Stormbreak 1

My little yellow home. I lived in that tent for 16 days during the expedition.

The tent held up very well in the exposed windy plains of the Kamchatka peninsula. It has lots of guy ropes which allow you to secure it very firmly and as long as you orient it right the tent stands up very well in high wind conditions.

The North Face Stormbreak 1

There was enough space to lie down and sit up comfortably

I found the interior of the tent had enough space to lie down, sit up and get ready. There was enough room for my gear at the foot of the tent. I kept my boots and pack outside under the vestibule. I spent 16 night in this tent on an expedition to Kamchatka. I felt very comfortable and cozy in my tent. Most of the others shared tents and predictably, half way through the trip started complaining about the sleeping and dressing habits of their tent mates. I had no such issues and was very glad that I had opted to take a tent for myself. Having a bit of time to yourself and getting a good nights sleep are very important on long trips away.

The North Face Stormbreak 1

Spectacular view over the mosquito infested taiga to the remote mountains of the Vostochny range (Kamchatka, Russia)

The two pole design gives the tent a lot of structural integrity and I was confident the tent would stand up to the testing conditions I was going to experience on this expedition to this remote corner of the world. On pervious expeditions to Kamchatka I have seen the wind snap poles and shred tents. The wind can get very strong in this exposed landscape as there is very little cover out on the tundra.

The North Face Stormbreak 1

The North Face Stormbreak well guyed out amoung the lava rocks (Kamchatka, Russia)

The North Face Stormbreak 1 proved to be a very good choice for this expedition. While the other tents I considered had their advantages, The North Face Stormbreak 1 punches way above it’s weight. The price meant I could spent less money on gear and more money on having an adventure. I would highly recommend this tent to anyone looking for a rugged lightweight single person tent.

The North Face Stormbreak

Cheap heavy metal tent pegs are supplied with the tent

Any downsides?

Yes, I was very surprised at the bad quality of the tent pegs that are supplied with this great tent. The pegs are the cheap, heavy iron pegs at you get with bottom of the line tents at a discount store. I replaced these with some lightweight pegs. But when you consider the price difference between this tent and others in the same range you understand that compromises have to be made. Anyhow, this does not take away from the fact that The North Face Stormbreak 1 is a great tent that I look forward to using on many adventures in the years ahead.

The North Face Stormbreak 1 Specifications

  • Fabric:fly: lightweight polyester taffeta, 1200mm PU coating, water-resistant finish,
  • Fabric: canopy: breathable polyester taffeta, water-resistant finish
  • Fabric:mesh: polyester “no-see-um” mesh / floor: lightweight polyester taffeta, 3000 mm PU coating, water-resistant finish
  • Trail Weight:3 lbs 1.4 oz (1.4 kg)
  • Floor Area:18.13 ft2 (1.68 m²)
  • Capacity: 1 Person
  • Total Weight:3 lbs 7 oz (1.56 kg)
  • Fastpack Weight:2 lbs 4.6 oz (1.04 kg)
  • Vestibule Area:3.02 ft2 (0.28 m²) / 6.04 ft2 (0.56 m²)
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Sunset over the mountains of fire, Kamchatka

Tolbachik volcano Kamchatka

We climbed a small dormant volcanic cone to watch the final sunset of our expedition

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir

On our final evening amoung the volcanos, we climbed a small dormant volcanic cone a short walk from camp to take in the grandeur of the scenery we had been trekking through. We were treated to this amazing scene as the sun set over the jagged peaks of the remote Sredinny range. The skies lit up in reds and yellows over Tolbachik in a perfect allegory of the angry past which created this volcano aeons ago. Her active cone from last year’s eruption was silent now and while the lava remained hot all activity had ceased.

Being treated to an etherial scene like this is what it’s all about. One experience like this makes all those rough kilometres of trekking, burdened with spine crushing packs, all the while being harried by thousands of bloodsucking mosquitos, seem like nothing.

We soaked in the scene and stood on the top of the volcanic mound, rugged up in our down jackets, till the chill of the cold wind got to us. We scrambled down and walked back to camp over the black ash of the lava plain in silence. That night we slept well knowing we would be back in civilisation the next day and were going to treat ourselves to a hot bath and meal that wasn’t rehydrated in a plastic bag, for the first time in over two weeks. And lets not forget, our first ice cold beer.



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Tolbachik – active and inactive

Here are two views of the active cone of Tolbachik volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia. The first photograph I took on during the 2012 eruption, on 1 July 2013, a few months after the main eruption took place. As you can see the lava lake was visible and there was a lot of activity. Lower down the slope rivers of lava ran down towards the plains and two more vents continued to erupt with lava and spew gas.

Looking into the crater

The devil’s cauldron: Tolbachik volcano 1 July 2013

The second photograph I took on 20 July 2014 during my 150km trek around the central group of volcanos. As you can see the lava lake was no longer visible and the activity had ceased. Lower down the slope, while the rivers of lava had stopped running, the lava was still hot – too hot to touch in some places. There were a few vents still spewing very hot gas into the air. We had to approach these vents with great care as if the wind direction changed you had to jump to get out of the way as the blast of hot air was extremely hot. We saw no evidence of red hot lava though.

We came across a number of volcanologists clamouring over the rubble with their gadgets and instruments conducting research.

Tolbachik volcano Kamchatka

The devil’s lair: Tolbachik volcano 20 July 2014

We walked around the edge of the caldera and collected lava rocks as souvenirs. Wisps of gas continued to flow from cracks in the ground and much of the rock was still hot to touch. Tolbachik erupted last year after a gap of nearly 40 years. I wonder when the next eruption will be.


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Tso Moriri (4200m), Ladakh

Tso Moriri, Ladakh

The mountains in the distance are over 6000m high

The tranquil waters of Tso Moriri on the Changtang plateau in Ladakh. Tso Moriri, or Lake Moriri is a saltwater lake and the largest high altitude lake in India. Back in 2007 I tried to mountain bike around the lake and failed miserably. We were able to cycle along one bank to the end of the lake and then back again. The altitude, soft sand and hot sun defeated us. On the way we surprised some nomads on horses who stared at us as we struggled past. They shook their heads and rode off in a cloud of dust. Obviously horses were a much better idea.

I would love to return to the beautiful spot and spend some time shooting the lake in its many moods.

Encounter with the High Altitude Taxi Mafia

We had a strange incident while visiting the lake. We were camped by the shore some distance from the village of Korzok. We had pitched our tents and settled down to a cup of tea when we saw a couple of jeeps approaching our camp at high speed. They braked hard at the edge of the camp in a cloud of dust and the occupants rolled down their windows and started shouting incoherently at us. Not the kind of hello you would expect in an isolated spot at over 4000m in the Himalayas. Bemused I put my cup down and approached the vehicle along with my companions, Scott and Ross; both well over six foot and Scott is an ex-soldier from the Australian Army.

The jeeps were filled with local goons from the taxi mafia who demanded to know why we weren’t using their vehicles and camped in their camp grounds near Korzok. I just smiled and shook their hands with a cheery Jhuley! This disarmed them immediately and they calmed down. I said we hadn’t travelled hundreds of kilometres to get into a fight. We could have got into one right at our door step if we wanted one! Their tone changed and they now said they had come to inform us that we had camped on the lands of the Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve. All this while none of the pint-sized goons, packed like sardines, stepped out of the jeep. When they realised that there wasn’t going to be a scrap and left in a cloud of dust.

We had diffused the situation but the tension remained. I didn’t want them to return at night once they had had a few drinks in them. I thought it best to drive into town speak with their boss and clear things up. We located the goons in the village. They were playing snooker in a large parachute tent. They were very sheepish and wouldn’t even make eye contact when they spoke to us. When asked where their boss was, we were given a name and told to go to the monastery.

At the monastery we soon realised that the head Lama was the local mafia boss. I wondered if his motto was Om Money Padme Hum. After much running around we were told that the shadowy Himalayan Godfather was out of town, or maybe he just didn’t want to see us.  We returned to camp and left early next morning.

Then we had a run in with the cops at the toll barrier who though we were running an illegal taxi, then we had a run in with the local tour company who stuffed up our permits and wouldn’t refund our money, the next encounter…… anyway…….I’d like to remember my visit to the lake with this serene photograph.

Om Mani Padme Hum!






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A Woodsman’s Trail in Darkest London

Woodmans Trail in Darkest London - Times

I found this newspaper article from The Times about an account of a meeting with the legendary Jim Corbett. I think the best bit is about Jim Corbett getting lost in the urban jungle that is London. He forgets the name of his hotel and uses his jungle tracking skills to find his way back. This is how it goes:

On arriving in London Jim Corbett says “I had an evening meal in the hotel but the buildings were so marvellous that I had to go out and see them. However far I went, they were always different; and so I went on until the streets were empty. There was a policeman so I said: “How do I get back to the Hotel?” “We have a good many hotels in South Kensington”, he said, “but if you tell me its name I can probably help you”. “Oh, I never asked the name.” “Well, what street was it in?” “I’m afraid I didn’t ask either”. “I’m no good to you, then, sir; so good-night!”

The first step was easy; it was to walk back as far as I could see from where I had halted. After that I went slowly, picking up one clue after another – perhaps a broken window upstairs, or a shop sign that had for one second reflected a lamp as it swung. The worst place was where a lot of roads met; I think it must have been Piccadilly Circus. I went a little way down each in turn. One seemed to have too steep a slope, so did the next one. One was too short and one had a curve that I couldn’t recognise.

Finally I found my way; my eye picked out a poster that had one corner torn away. Soon I came to another place with four or five roads leading off it, and here I was almost stumped. But somewhere about there had been a narrow gully between two tall buildings, where the wind had blown on my right cheek as I passed. Sure enough, I found the gully, and the wind was now on my left cheek, so I went on. Sometimes I had to go over the ground twice, but I got back to the hotel, with some part of the night still left.”

Click on the article to view a larger copy and read the rest of the account.

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